In my last post, I told you my story about my own experience with anxiety. Today I want to explain the role that I feel diabetes has played in this experience.
(On a side note, I am writing this while home sick with some sort of stomach bug – or something resembling some sort of stomach bug. If you read my last post, you’ll hopefully realize the irony in this.)
Without having the specific stats to give you, studies show that there is a correlation between diabetes and issues such as anxiety and depression. Maybe there’s some genetic component to this correlation, but in my non-scientific opinion, there is definitely a conditioned component.
It comes down to this: Life with diabetes is stressful.
With all due respect to everyone else, if you don’t have diabetes or live with someone who does, you truly have no idea.
I have spent my whole life worrying – sometimes more and sometimes less, but rarely not at all. The normal child/teenager/adult worries and stresses have been there too, but I have also been continually surrounded by this additional layer of diabetes-related worries and stresses:
- Will my bloodsugar go too low without my noticing? Will I pass out?
- Will my bloodsugar go too high?
- Will people think I’m different?
- Will there be food there that I can eat?
- Will I be able to eat when I need to?
- Will I have to sit out something I want to do because of my bloodsugar?
- Will I get sick and not be able to manage my bloodsugar? Will I have to go to the hospital?
- Can I afford all the treatments (i.e. glucose sensors, insulin pump) that I need to manage my diabetes as best as I can, but that my insurance won’t pay for.
- Will I have complications later in life?
- Am I doing everything I can to take care of myself?
- Why does it feel like I’m doing this all wrong?
- Why can’t I figure out a solution that works consistently?
- Will I go low at night and not wake up?
- Will I go low while I’m driving and, heaven forbid, cause an accident?
- How many carbs does that have?
- How fast will that food raise my bloodsugar? How much?
- How fast will that activity drop my bloodsugar? How much?
- Is my insulin pump infusion site still working?
- If my pump stops working, what will I do?
- Do I have all of my supplies along? Am I prepared if I pull out my infusion site by accident? Do I have an extra pump battery on hand?
- Will they let me through airport security with all this medical paraphanalia?
- What will I do with my pump at the beach when I want to go in the water?
- Did I overtreat?
- Did I undertreat?
- Is there too much scar tissue in this infusion site? Do I need to rotate sites?
- Will I wake up with an occlusion, high bloodsugar, and DKA?
- Will I feel my bloodsugar rise or drop if I have another drink?
- Will I miss too much school or work because of doctors’ appointments?
- Will I run out of supplies and not be able to test my bloodsugar or take insulin?
- Did I remember to take my insulin?
- Why do I keep forgetting to take my insulin?!
- Why do I crave the foods I shouldn’t be eating? Why can’t I eat what I want to when I want to?
- Will I be able to fit all of my supplies in this purse?
- Will my insulin pump look stupid with this outfit? Can I make it work with this dress?
- Will my CGMS transmitter show through this shirt?
- Do people notice my pincushion fingertips?
- Will I be able to have a baby? Will I be able to manage a pregnancy?
- Will I be able to have a second baby?
- Will my child/children ever be at risk because of my low bloodsugar?
- Will my child/children develop diabetes? Will it be my fault if they do? Will I be able to handle that?
- Will my eyes bleed again? Will I go blind? Will I see my daughter grow up and have a daughter of her own?
- Will my kidneys fail?
- Will my life be cut short…?
- Why do I never get a break from this….?
That’s a lot to worry about.
Of course, a person with diabetes generally isn’t hit with all of these all at the same time, but in my own experience, it’s not too difficult to touch on at least a dozen of the above stresses in a day…in addition to normal daily stress.
Plus, diabetes management in and of itself can take a lot of time and mental energy: counting carbs, testing bloodsugars, balancing insulin levels, taking shots or changing infusion sets, etc. Not to mention the periodic logging, looking for trends, problem solving, etc. Some days aren’t bad, but some days it truly feels like a second job. It takes me away from the task at hand – from my work, my friends, my family – if not in body, at least in focus. It’s work. Sometimes a lot of work.
And then there’s the guilt. For the most part, I don’t think anyone means to make us feel guilty, but I challenge you to try to find someone with diabetes who has not at some point been made to feel diabetes-related-guilt.
It comes from our doctors and nurses and dieticians: “Your A1C needs to come down.” “You need to brush up on your carb-counting.” “You’re running too high overnight.”
It comes from the people who don’t really know us: “Should you be eating that?” “You must have had too much sugar as a kid.” “Retinopathy? Tsk, too much cheating, eh?”
It even comes from our friends and family who really don’t mean it, sometimes in the form of own impressions of the impacts we are having on them: “I shouldn’t have snapped at him when all he was trying to do was open the bottle of Gatorade to fix my low.” “Is my diabetes harming my unborn baby?” “Will I be able to be around for my family as long as I should be…or will this disease steal me from them at some point?”
All of these factors have played a part in who am I today and the demons I struggle with. But for me, I think the killer has been the extra level of sensitivity that I have needed to have over what is happening to my body – and the extra level of control it makes me feel that I need.
Over the last almost 30 years, my senses have become finely tuned to any changes in my body that might indicate low or high bloodsugar requiring an intervention from me. Because of this, any time something is “off” it sets off alarm bells in my mind. But sometimes it’s just that I ate something that’s disagreeing with me, or that I’m tired, or that I’m stressed, or that I drank too much caffeine….etc. There are 1000 normal reasons for me to feel “off” and not to be anxious about it, but it’s become very difficult for my mind not to overreact to each and every one of those signals from my body. It’s hard to filter the “meh, not a big deal” signals out of there. The result can be a very edgy me.
The extra kick in the teeth for me is that I have a pretty good feeling that I’m also predisposed to anxiety. I have other family members who struggle (or have struggled) with it, so the genetic component is likely at play. As well, I’m very analytical and detail-oriented. So I pick things apart and get caught up in the little things that other people don’t. When you have diabetes, this can be a blessing and a curse. In all honesty, I’m not sure how people who aren’t very analytical manage their diabetes, but I bet they do it with a lot less stress than I do!
So all of this is a part of me, and so is diabetes. The chicken vs. egg question is unanswered…and probably moot anyway.
So that’s that. There’s my anxiety post – times two. 🙂
Lastly, though, I want to comment on the stigma that goes with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. It’s so sad to me that so many people feel that these issues are character flaws and or aspects of oneself to be ashamed of. It’s easy to hide these pieces of us rather than reach out for help, because it’s scary to admit to having problems like these for fear of what others will think of us.
It’s easy to feel like struggles like these mean that we’re weak. But they don’t. We’re not. Taking the steps to get help and to help others see anxiety as something not to be ashamed of means that we’re strong.
Every voice helps. Don’t hide. Speak out.